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Book review: Don't Drop the Coffin

 LONDON - 22 May 2002 - 274 Words

Don't Drop the Coffin, by Barry Albin-Dyer with Greg Watts published by Hodder and Stoughton, 2002

This book offers a series of anecdotes about funerals from an undertaker working in Bermondsey, south-east London. Albins, a long established family firm organises about a thousand funerals each year in what used to be a working class area. As an inner city area, Bermondsey has its share of gangsters, villains and murderers. It was Albins who officiated at the funeral of Damilola Taylor, the murdered Peckham schoolboy whose alleged attackers were recently on trial at the Old Bailey.

Problems encountered at funerals are often bizarre, like the corpse which weighed 36 stone and needed the assistance of the Fire Brigade. Mr Albin-Dyer deals with such stories in the manner of an after-dinner speaker, and mines them for their comic elements. It is disappointing that his discussion of more serious topics such as the emotional effects of bereavement, and the increasing fashion for cryonics, are also somewhat lightweight.

Cryonics, the suspension of a corpse at zero degrees Centigrade to await future medical advances and possible resuscitation, obviously has substantial religious implications. Mr Albin Dyer, as a practising Catholic, justifies his provision of cryonic suspension as an option by appealing to the demand for increased consumer choice. Definitely his accounts of funeral rites chosen by the families of the deceased do show a wide range of variety in style, beliefs and methods chosen for the disposal of remains.

An entertaining read, this book, largely dictated and then written up by Greg Watts, a fellow-Catholic, ends with a challenge: have you planned your own funeral ?